Notre Dame’s Status as a “Semi-Independent”: Why it is Good for the ACC and Notre Dame

Florida State vs. Notre Dame will be a great recurring game for the ACC.

By now, you know that Notre Dame will join the Atlantic Coast Conference as a partial member. They will not be joining the league for football, but have agreed to an arrangement in which the football team will play five games per year against ACC teams, and each ACC team will play Notre Dame at least once every three years. If the teams rotate evenly, each team will play against Notre Dame five times every 14 years.

According to reports, the Fighting Irish will give the ACC five weekends on which it is free, and the ACC will fill those spots with five teams from the conference. Effectively, the Notre Dame football team will have the status of a “semi-independent.” While the Irish will not participate in a conference’s football league, a conference will play a part in creating the team’s schedule.

What does this mean moving forward, both for ND and for the ACC? And why is it a good arrangement for both?

Notre Dame’s football team has typically been able to create a strong schedule as an independent. The team has also had a benefit virtually no other school has – an individual contract with NBC for all of its home football games. Given the popularity of Notre Dame as an opponent, they tend to have very little trouble creating their schedule.

However, the landscape of college football has changed over the years. At one time there were many independent football teams; now, only a few remain. Some conferences (notably the Big Ten and Big 12) tend to schedule all of their non-conference games in September, creating scheduling difficulties for an independent that must fill over half of its schedule in October and November.

While almost anyone is willing to put Notre Dame on the schedule because of the opportunity to have a marquee opponent (and hence great exposure for one’s football team), the Irish usually prefers to schedule opponents that are either from “power conferences” or the service academies. The team has also preferred to have opponents in the northeast, and has had longstanding rivalries with both Boston College and Pittsburgh.

Given the moves of BC and Pittsburgh (as well as Syracuse) from the Big East to the ACC, the fact that the ACC is a competitive conference, and the remaining teams are in good recruiting areas (the mid-Atlantic & southeast), Notre Dame’s agreement to schedule five teams per year makes a lot of sense.

The scheduling agreement will not only guarantee that the Irish will have at least two  games on the east coast each year, but it will ensure that in October and November (the more difficult time to schedule for an independent) its schedule will be completed easily.

As for the ACC, all of its teams will benefit. Every school in the conference will have a marquee out-of-conference opponent at least once every three years. A Notre Dame game at home for a team essentially guarantees a sellout crowd and good exposure for a program.

In addition, the conference does not need to add a 16th member at this time. While 15 games may be slightly odd for basketball (and a few other spots), it is not so difficult that it warrants adding a 16th member. The conference can hold off on further expansion until ND’s football program decides to join the ACC in league play.

For other sports, there are very few issues. Over half of the ACC sports do not have a full complement of 15 teams, and those that do will be able to make arrangements as needed. Baseball, the only other sport with divisions, will have 14 (Syracuse does not field a team). The ACC men’s lacrosse league is so strong that the six teams combined will have held over half of the spots in the NCAA lacrosse championship game since it began in 1971. Notre Dame adds competitiveness to several other Olympic sports as well, making this a great move not just for the future of football, but the conference as a whole.

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